I'm happy to announce that I've finally found hard evidence that being a connected educator helps me become a better teacher. Mind you, for me hard evidence doesn't always mean something material - in this case it is some kind of subjective conviction and strong belief.
There's been a lot of debate about the advantages of connecting with other professionals; I've read a plethora of posts and articles about communities, PLNs and stuff and I've never doubted their relevance. And this is not the first time I'm touching upon the topic, so by writing this post I'm only adding another drop into the immense ocean of knowledge and experience. But as every fingerprint is unique, so is my perspective. And every time I address the same issue, my vision zooms in.
Enough of excuses. I've always had this hunch that becoming part of the wider teaching community is a step in the right direction. At first I thought that it was because I could learn from others. This is still very true but it's not the whole story. It is the fact that I can share my experience that finally helps me grow and become more confident. In order to learn something we need some background knowledge, plenty of comprehensible input, and a little bit of experience to be able to finally come up with some sort of output. But this output (everything I learned from others reshaped into something new) means nothing if there's nobody to listen or look. It becomes more or less fossilized. We simply need each other, desperately, and this process we take part in shapes itself into a circle, or rather a spiral, because each time things come full circle, we get to higher ground.
Over the past couple of weeks I've been delving into the issue of observation. The other day it suddenly occurred to me that as part of a community I'm constantly being 'observed'. In other words, I'm under scrutiny whenever I enter the classroom or plan a lesson because my community is always there with me, either because I remember something interesting somebody shared on Twitter or Facebook and I'd like to try it myself, or because I think: 'Oh, this activity has turned out to be great. I could share it on my blog.' I can't help feeling some strange kind of responsibility to my virtual community (mind you, these are people I've never met in person). I mean, I certainly do my best to be a good teacher for my students, and that is my priority, but I sometimes feel that I'm also being gently, unintentionally pushed by my community towards further professional development. The funny thing is that this push is only going on in my head - at first sight there's no evidence or proof that I'm being pushed, at least at the moment when the change is taking place. The evidence is latent, emergent and it doesn't materialize until I reflect on what I did, share my reflections, get some feedback and finally take action again. What's more, those who push me haven't a clue about their role in my life!
We don't live in a vacuum and this sense of human interconnectedness is fascinating. And this is what my students should hear from me every day: that whenever they work on something - an essay, a project, a presentation, a comic, a poster - they do it for somebody out there. And most of all, I should teach them to be grateful for their potential audience because what would be a great singer without listeners and an amazing short story writer without readers? But in order to turn our students into confident authors and a thankful audience, it's important to create an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion in the classroom, right from the beginning. Students should be taught to appreciate, praise, provide constructive feedback and look for the positive.
So this is what I've learned as a connected educator. This is the hard evidence I talked about at the beginning of my post. I realize that this piece of evidence can't be accepted as concrete if it's experienced vicariously - it can only be understood and internalized if it's lived. But you can take my word for it - I am a reliable witness ....